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Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons
Artwork/Political Cartoons

And now we turn to a conversation between “American Joe” and “Middle Eastern Mo” exploring the question of “Muslim rage…”

JOE: Hey Mo, what is it with you people? Why so hypersensitive?

MO: Be riiiight with you, Joe; just helping my neighbor bury his wife and children…

JOE: Honor killing?

MO: Drone, actually…

JOE: No shit! Well let me look into that… If it turns out you’re right, my government might just have a few hundred dollars for your neighbor!

MO: Blood money?

JOE: Hey, it’s your fuckin’ tradition… But what about my question: Why the heck are Muslims so damn SENSITIVE about a little free speech?

MO: Well, there’s some problems with the premise of your question (like, we wish our grievances were limited to offensive speech), but to the extent that it’s true, you might begin your journey toward greater understanding by exploring a related question: why are African-Americans “so damn sensitive” about the N-word; or why are Jews “so damn sensitive” about the Holocaust; or why are Native Americans…

JOE: Whoa, whoa, whoa – we’re talking about Muslims, here! Not America and the West’s past, um…

MO: Victims?

JOE: No.

MO: Youthful indiscretions?

JOE: Exactly. That stuff isn’t about our values — it’s not who the West is, what America stands for today. It’s ancient history!

MO: Ah, then perhaps you would be more comfortable discussing the current period: Did America not invade Iraq on a pack of lies, in violation of the Nuremberg Principles, leaving hundreds of thousands of innocents dead (quite possibly over a million)? And didn’t that war follow a decade where needlessly draconian American sanctions resulted in the deaths of 500,000-800,000 Iraqi children under the age of five (and countless, uncounted others)? And didn’t those 1990s sanctions follow the decade in which America elevated Saddam Hussein in the first place, in order to launch a war of aggression against post-Revolution Iran, resulting in the deaths of an estimated one million people? And then there are the recent wars of aggression launched against the people of south Lebanon and Gaza, the apartheid-state reality of Palestinians, the West’s backing of dictators and terrorists across the region…

JOE: Whoa, whoa — again, whoa! Slow down, there, Mo. I’m not familiar with this history.

MO: Of course not. You are an American.

JOE: What the hell is that supposed to mean??

MO: It means that whenever your country commits crimes against humanity, you blame the victim and proceed to go to sleep. The people you torture and murder, their survivors, the people of the nations you devastate and subject to terrorism and despotic rule, those whose resources you plunder — they are denied any legal recourse and, more often, any form of justice whatsoever.

JOE: It’s called “American Exceptionalism.”

MO: It’s called lawless predation founded on a double standard, and it’s nothing new in the world. Colonialist emperors and tyrants have always found such “exceptionalism” useful.

JOE: But HEY, this wasn’t supposed to be about us! This was supposed to be about you people and your hypersensitivity! You guys really hate that YouTube film, right? And those pornographic Mohammed cartoons?

MO: What’s to like? That said, the protests in Cairo and Libya were planned before the video even came out. Besides, most of the protests — and yes, the attacks, too — are inspired by the West’s genocidal conduct toward Muslims over the last century; the bigoted European cartoons and American hate-films are just the icing on the cake.

JOE: The resentment cake? Shouldn’t that be a grievance falafel or something?

MO: Sigh… My bad. I meant to say “the last straw” or something; forget the cake.

JOE: Alright, but I still don’t think Muslims share our values.

MO: Why? Because we continue to resist foreign domination? Because so many of us are angry about the crimes against humanity we’ve suffered at your hands? Because we’re willing to fight for our right to self-determination?

JOE: Uhhhhh, no. Because you, uh, don’t share our passion for our cherished liberal, Western values, like free speech and the right to peaceful assembly. The rule of law…

MO: Ah, yes, the West’s proud history (I’m sincere, now) of exalting democratic, liberal-humanist laws and traditions: habeas corpus, the right to confront one’s accuser, the right to a speedy trial, freedom of association, a free press, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to be secure in one’s own person and effects, the rule of law…

JOE: Exactly! That stuff!

MO: Well, if you weren’t so busy mass-murdering Muslims and subsequently blaming the victim for his “hypersensitivity,” you might have noticed that America has spent the last decade obliterating all of those so-called “cherished values.” You might have protested as your last two presidents took a hatchet to the Bill of Rights and transformed America once and for all into some kind of Fourth Reich dictatorship of the .1%, with cameras everywhere, drones flying overhead, no more habeas corpus or Posse Comitatus, honest whistleblowers and journalists persecuted, peaceful protests violently dispersed, whole populations subject to unconstitutional targeting on the basis of their political affiliations or religious faith, and some Americans murdered outright (with no charges/trial) for exercising their right to free speech!

Now you tell me, which group of people seems more committed to self-determination, free speech/assembly, and the rule of law: the ones who scrapped their constitution at the first sign of trouble, or the ones who’ve been resisting the West’s despots for decades and have filled their streets with protest, sacrificing their lives (thousands snuffed out by the folks Washington backs) in order to fight for their right to self-determination?

JOE: …well, I’m maybe a little persuaded by your arguments — but did you have to go so rough on America? Your rhetoric is a tad sharp-elbowed, to say the least…

MO: Why so sensitive?

After basically eschewing the HuffingtonPost “Comments” section for over a month (that time-sucking rabbit hole of bumptiousness and braggadocio), I’ve recently allowed myself to dive back into that moshy pit, engaging in discussions ranging in tone from mutually admiring to openly combative (I confess that, when provoked, my HP self can be a bit of an acerbic dick — but I never stop trying to inform people, even those with whom I’m engaged in feces-hurling contests.  Okay, I’m probably saying more in this introduction than I’d originally intended.  Moving on…).

Here, arranged by subject, are excerpts from some of my HP comments from the past week or so (their 250-word limit forces me to be more concise than I might otherwise be — for which we can all be grateful).

The United States Postal Service (USPS) and Public Education under Attack:

The GOP Congress passed a law a few years back designed to sabotage the Postal Service (and create opportunities for FedEx and UPS). That unprecedented law requires the USPS to fill a 75-year retirement fund in just one decade. Without that absurdly onerous law, the USPS would be $1.5 billion in the black. That, my friend, is why the USPS (which we both like) is foundering. It’s not a question of outmoded management style; it’s purely a question of sabotage designed to privatize a government service — what else is new?

Study after study has shown that charter schools perform at the same level or WORSE than public schools, only requiring more money to do so… all while exploiting their ability to refuse to enroll students who present more challenges (special needs, English language learners, etc.).

So-called “accountability” is about imposing untried methods and newfangled “reforms” (on an institution that’s been chronically and systematically starved of resources) in order to dismantle one of the last bastions of organized labor in America. If it were about the quality of the students’ educations, the B.S.-reformers would be raising the clarion call to go with PROVEN SOLUTIONS: small class size, decent facilities and resources, adequately compensated and highly trained professional educators. Instead they want to fire a few million trained teachers and replace them with a bunch of hapless temps.

We’re living in P.T. Barnum’s America: ALL of our institutions are badly corrupted and broken, including both political parties, which work exclusively for the .1%. …the willy-nilly privatizers and deregulators who want to do for public education what they’ve done for banking.

Syria Analysis — the Neocons and al Qaeda, Together Again:

Prior to the civil war that American neocons manufactured in Syria (beginning with the Free Syrian Army’s al Qaeda affiliate bombing cities, killing scores of civilians and injuring hundreds more), there hadn’t been significant ethnosectarian strife in Syria since the 1980s. Syria’s 40% minorities (Christians, Druze, Alawites, and Kurds) were basically safe. Compared to their occupied and devastated neighbors (Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine) Syrians were thriving.

THEN we flooded the country with Salafis, RPGs, machine guns, and heavy arms, encouraging a wave of Sunni extremist violence in order to provoke an overreaction from the regime (which fights terrorism the same way Washington does, with its torturing, slaughtering head up its patootie).

The neocons appear to have created the Syrian National Council just as they created the Iraqi National Congress (headed by that London charlatan, Ahmad Chalabi, who fed George W. Bush all the “Curveball” intell he wanted so America could turn Iraq into a bloody hellscape). Now, they’re doing likewise for Syria, with war crimes piling up on all sides — and al Qaeda in ascendance across the region, all thanks to our obsession with isolating Iran.

Clearly, you’re happy vilifying the little brute and can’t be bothered with acknowledging the millions of victims of the BIG brute — the brute behind the current violence, no less. Your morality is subject to official dictates. Sounds safe… not principled, mind you, but safe.

But where are your concerns for the boiled-alive victims of our Uzbek ally, Islam Karimov? For Saudi women? For the doctors, journalists, and human rights activists jailed and beaten by our Bahraini ally?

Face it: you go where the neocon pipers pipe, my friend. You probably wouldn’t be giving Syrians a second thought if it weren’t Assad’s turn for regime change. (I bet you also thought Saddam was a “brutal tyrant” right on cue — but had nothing to say when he was slaughtering Kurds with the WMDs Reagan supplied.)

However, in the event you are willing to explore reality, here are just a few of my sources:






Muslim Rage and Democratic Values:

Many Americans today demonize Muslims (ALL Muslims, no less) for their “lack of democratic values” (baloney) — yet we don’t lift a finger to restore habeas corpus, the Constitution, and the legal foundations of Western Civilization (all interred after 9/11). The NSA vacuums up our phone calls and e-mails, the government persecutes honest whistleblowers and journalists like never before (calling WikiLeaks “terrorism”) — and across the nation government officials wage war on collective bargaining rights — AND MOST AMERICANS ARE SILENT.

You’re right about one thing: We did sic Saddam on the Iranians within months of the student-led revolution that deposed our torturing puppet, the Shah. Had we not used this mad dog (Saddam) as our proxy, getting him to launch a war of pure, bloody aggression, over a million people would be alive today — and it’s doubtful that Iran’s leadership would’ve been so radicalized in the first place.

It’s time to take responsibility for our past crimes — way past time to stop pretending as if there’s any morality or justice in our foreign policy. It’s time to stop pointing the finger at other countries; there are plenty of war criminals and massively corrupt individuals RIGHT HERE AT HOME. Middle Easterners will do a far better job of determining their nations’ fates than the butchering neocons ever could, anyway. Time to bring the troops home and send the mercenaries packing.

The 2012 Election — Observations and Hopes:

Even the GOP’s standard bearer, Mr. Romney, has repeatedly drawn from the Othering Pool, winking at the Birthers with his little joke and making a staple of his campaign rhetoric a bunch of nonsense about how Obama “just doesn’t get America.” The GOP’s WHOLE ATTACK on Obama has been based on othering the first African-American president and making him seem very scary to the people who ate up Ms. Palin’s bilious demagoguery in 2008: he’s a “European socialist” (anything but); he’s afflicted with “deeply rooted Kenyan, anti-colonialist” beliefs (coulda’ fooled me); he “hates white people…”

In short, my thesis on the Obama presidency is that the president has delivered massively on an agenda that — just a few years ago — would’ve been considered radically right-wing and politically unfeasible.  I basically agree with Glen Ford’s assessment of the president, that he is “the more effective evil,” accomplishing more of the right’s agenda than a Republican ever could. I agree with Cornel West that Obama is a corporations-first technocrat who plays a liberal on TV. And I agree with Glenn Greenwald, that Obama has delivered an imperial presidency that would make Nixon blush (he’s also criminalized whistleblowing and adversarial journalism, while turning municipal police departments into a militarized, federally-coordinated army that quashes peaceful dissent).

I confess I’m more ambivalent than you are, when it comes to the outcome of the upcoming presidential election (though I’d love to see November deliver an overwhelmingly progressive Congress — a repudiation of the right’s embrace of radical, bigoted politics).

My reasoning, regarding the race for the Oval Office: It will be much harder for Romney — a president I never hope to see — to take a hatchet to the social safety net than it will for President Obama, who has strongly indicated (since before his inauguration) that he intends to slash Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (having repeatedly touted the far-right conclusions of the divided Simpson-Bowles-movement).

JOB ONE: Work to unite the OWS-left and Tea Party-right behind the common goal of cleaning up our banana republic-worthy campaign finance system (I like Lawrence Lessig’s ideas about creating a public finance system that would nullify the corrupting influence of the oligarchs). BOTH of these camps understand that our institutions are broken and corporations have run away with our democracy (and $16 TRILLION of our money, per the GAO audit of the Fed). I also believe these constituencies can unite behind restoring the Constitution, ending the neocons’ wars, and investing in our crumbling infrastructure (greening it and again making America a world leader in technology).

But first we have to overcome the many ways we’ve been deluded and divided by the pols and media…

I have respect for both Michael Eric Dyson and Glen Ford, who were recently on Amy Goodman’s excellent broadcast to discuss the Obama presidency.  Their debate raises many of the more salient points I tried to raise in my recent series on identity politics and the Obama era.  In any case, I hope my readers will find it interesting…

A worthy debate, courtesy of Amy Goodman's "DemocracyNow!"

The following is the entire statementcondemned by Governor Romney and disavowed by the Obama administration — that was released by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo responding to the furor over an American-made hate film targeting Muslims, several hours before the protests that would breach their walls (contrary to Mr. Romney’s bizarrely repeated claims).  Please note that the values in the following statement are now explicitly the values that our highest political leaders reject:

U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement

September 11, 2012

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

Wow, what terrorist sympathizer (to paraphrase Gov. Romney) wrote that claptrap?  Have you ever in your life seen such apologizing for America?

Has the Obama administration distinguished itself from the actually un-American (in character) comments of this imbecile, Romney?  On the contrary!  In standard fashion, President Obama wasted no time in dashing off to embrace the fringe-right.  Both ABC News and Politico have reported that, per an administration official, the statement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo was inappropriate and “does not reflect the views of the United States government.”

(Having observed the U.S. government closely over the years, I concur that, indeed, it does not.)

And what of our actual values?  The sad truth (and nauseating irony) is that America’s obsession with redrawing the map of the Middle East and crushing (Shi’ite) Iran has once again realigned our state interests with those of (Sunni) al Qaeda: in Libya, Syria, and Lebanon, at least (again, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Seymour Hersh’s 2007 article, “The Redirection,” should be essential reading for anyone trying to figure out American foreign policy in the region today).

Once again, through our Saudi Arabian (Sunni) allies, we’re funneling millions of dollars and heavy arms to the extremist Salafis and Wahhabis who hate us, even though many of them are evidently marching to al Qaeda’s fife.  For, in addition to his call to support the U.S.-backed uprising in Syria, al Qaeda’s co-founder (with Osama bin Laden), Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, called for anti-American action in Libya, just 24 hours before America’s ambassador and three others were killed on this latest anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks — an incident that has helped ignite (along with the hate film itself) a fire of protest and rage that has now reached Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen…

*          *          *

I realize that many Americans are confused at this moment, having bought into the propaganda that the United States has somehow encouraged or helped facilitate the democratic aspirations of the Muslim world over the last year — but nothing could be further from the truth.  In Libya and Syria, America has co-opted and perverted the same “Arab Spring” that we otherwise tried to thwart in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, and Palestine.  We’ve done so by indirectly backing terrorists and fanning the flames of ethnosectarian hatred in order to destabilize nations whose leaders we’d like disappeared, simply because they refuse Western domination (no other explanation stands up to scrutiny).

Here, in an excerpt from an excellent roundtable discussion featuring Glenn Greenwald, is former National Security Council and State Department official Hillary Mann Leverett explaining “what U.S. policy is about, which is: U.S. policy identifies expatriates living outside of the country, tries to fund, arm, and convince them to come together to be a front to go back and change regimes in countries we don’t like.

Ms. Leverett’s assessment is useful, reminding us of the inorganic nature of the U.S.-underwritten chapters of the Arab Spring (the movement that, however inspiring, has succeeded organically only in Tunisia and Egypt; everywhere else, it’s either been thwarted by the West and its thugs or co-opted by foreign elements, leading Libya and Syria into their present nightmares).

And now some southern California screwball, convicted of at least two crimes (preparing to operate a meth lab and stealing Social Security numbers for the purpose of committing bank fraud), has produced a religious hate film in cooperation with his Muslim-hating American partners, including crusader-training, Temecula mosque-foe Steve Klein.  When first questioned by reporters, the film’s racist director, Mr. Nakoula — the Coptic Christian, American — besides giving a false name, spread the fiction that he is an Israeli Jew and made sure that the press understood his views on Islam: “Islam is a cancer.”

It certainly seems like he was trying to provoke something, doesn’t it?

Too bad our political leaders are afraid to stand by our embassy’s condemnation of this filmmaker’s Nazi-like beliefs.  Too bad that such timidity and exploitation/appeasement of right-wing hatred and bigotry is endemic in our government and institutions.  But let’s face it: with Republicans pandering to outright bigots — and Democrats bending over backward to not offend them — America in the Obama-era is no place to build a mosque.

I. Rush Limbaugh’s candor — If you read my recent response to Clint Eastwood’s speech at the RNC, you might agree that Rush Limbaugh’s recent comment about the upcoming presidential election basically provides smoking-gun evidence that my thesis is correct: There is NO principle whatsoever behind establishment conservative opposition to President Obama.  Here’s Limbaugh, describing his feelings about Republican nominee Mitt Romney:

“He may as well be ELMER FUDD as far as we’re concerned.  We’re voting against Obama. I don’t care who they put on the ticket, we’re voting against Obama.”

Case closed.  Fudd-Ryan 2012! “Be vewy quiet. We’eh hunting wiberals!”

II. TWO autocratic conventions — I think it’s worth noting that both the RNC and DNC featured moments that were stunningly revealing of the state of democracy in America and the autocratic mindset of our political leaders: 

RNC: First, the Republicans stripped several Ron Paul delegates of their status and changed the rules to prevent future grassroots campaigns from achieving the kind of success Rep. Paul managed in last year’s Republican Primary.  They also put the kibosh on a Ron Paul speech at their convention when they told the congressman that his speech would have to be vetted by Romney’s people, and they would require a statement in the speech of unqualified support for Gov. Romney (once upon a time, American leaders allowed their friends and supporters to articulate some differences with them, lest they appear to be dictatorial, with robotic followers — but what am I talking about?  That was last century!).  The RNC’s actions shocked the Paul folks, leading one to observe: “This is a sign this man [Romney] will take our country down a much worse path than the guy who is currently in office.”

DNC: Second, the Democrats — who put similar conditions on their convention speakers (in 2008, editing Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s speech for him and requiring him to endorse 100% candidate Obama) — had a similarly revealing moment, and an embarrassing moment it was (here’s Jon Stewart’s take on it).  In short, when the Obama people decided to amend the Democratic platform at the last minute with a voice vote — to adopt positions that would pull the party further to the demagogic right and break with their past respect for international law, re: the status of Jerusalem — IT CLEARLY DID NOT PASS.  Obviously, the Democratic delegates were divided on these capitulations to the faith-exploiting right and law-contemptuous neocons.  Finally, after three unsuccessful attempts to ram these changes down the throats of their discordant delegates, the hapless Dem at the podium simply decided to declare the platform amended!  Screw you, dissenters!  How’s that for democratic?  Not too, not very, not at all…

III. Muslim “hypersensitivity — With U.S. embassies under attack in Cairo and Benghazi, many Westerners (at least on the comment boards I’ve seen) seem baffled, once again, about the alleged “hypersensitivity” of Muslims.  The following is my answer to those who toss their hands up in the air, unable to fathom the violence of many Muslims’ reactions to a little hate speech (hate films, hate cartoons, Quran burning, urinating on their dead, etc.).  HuffingtonPost keeps refusing to post this one for some reason, so I figured I’d do it here:

What, to some Westerners, appears to be the hypersensitivity of Muslims to minor offenses can be explained as follows:

Imagine that the most powerful factions in the world have had their boot on your people’s neck for centuries. They/their proxies regularly rape and murder your citizens. As predictably as the seasons, they forcibly remove your good, responsible leaders and replace them with despotic, torturing thugs who transfer your nation’s wealth to themselves and their masters. You’re regularly subjected to foreign bombings and occupation and an endless onslaught of propaganda that portrays your people — ALL OF YOU — as sick, backwards, barbaric, and ugly. Then one day, some representative of those monstrously oppressive factions walks right up to you and spits in your face. You explode and overreact. You do something violent…

That is what happens when you compound unending insults with permanent injury: eventually the victim snaps. It’s simple, really. All it requires to understand this phenomenon is a sense of our actual, unvarnished, blood-soaked history in the Middle East — and BASIC HUMAN EMPATHY.

Introduction: A post-9/11 conversation I once had…

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on America, I found myself debating a conservative young friend I’d made when I was a graduate student in Iowa.  He was surprised to learn that I was not among the roughly 90% of Americans, including himself, who approved of Bush’s response to al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks directed at the heart of American economic, political, and military force projection.

While he was gung ho, I was alarmed at Mr. Bush’s swaggering unilateralism, ambitious agenda (eyeing Baghdad from the start), and blustering rhetoric, including his “crusade” slip and the “smoke ‘em out of their caves” and “dead or alive” blather (I felt such rhetoric was both infantile and dangerous, but I was clearly in the minority).  I had watched aghast as the U.S. Congress, swept up in war fever, passed the open-ended “use of force” resolution with only one “nay” vote (Rep. Barbara Lee’s), enabling the Bush administration to rush off and start empowering brutal warlords and drug lords in Afghanistan (hell-bent on war, Bush had refused to even consider the Taliban’s repeated offers to apprehend Osama bin Laden for us and deliver him to justice).

“But we’ve got to respond!” my friend insisted.

“Definitely,” I answered, “but not this way.  This reaction is exactly what al Qaeda was hoping for.”

“bin Laden was hoping we’d come kick his ass for him???”

I proceeded to make my case that the appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks would’ve involved: 1) taking responsibility for America’s role in creating the Taliban and al Qaeda in the first place; 2) acknowledging and redressing the Afghan people’s legitimate grievances (for instance, by leading an international effort to remove the millions of land mines littering the landscape ever since our proxy war with the Soviets in the 1980s); 3) embracing multilateralism and the world’s efforts to show solidarity with us (from the U.K. to Iran); and 4) adhering rigidly to the rule of law, proving our values and rebutting bin Laden’s indictment of us.

If we’d responded in this way, I argued, we could have isolated the extremists responsible for 9/11, increasing the chance that they would be brought to justice — with the least amount of human suffering and without degrading civil liberties or our Constitution.  It could have been a truly shining moment for America’s professed values, paving the way for a far more peaceful world than the one we’re living in today (and it would’ve been EASY; back then, the whole world was sympathetic to the United States and offering assistance).

But my friend didn’t see it.  He didn’t see how — after flooding Afghanistan in the ‘80s with arms and thousands of violent, foreign jihadis like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (in order to lure the Soviets and “give them their Vietnam”) — we maybe owed it to the people of Afghanistan to try to apprehend al Qaeda’s leaders without bombing and occupying their nation for years to come (who could have guessed how many years?).

He didn’t find persuasive the argument that we had used the Af-Pak region (as a Pakistani general described it a few years later) “like a condom” and left a power vacuum in the region that made the Taliban’s rise all but inevitable (for, despite their draconian ways, the majority of Afghan citizens actually did prefer them to the brutal warlords and drug lords they eventually defeated and expelled from the country).

Were innocent people in the crosshairs?  Too bad, they shouldn’t have attacked us — or harbored the people who did! (Or so my friend had reasoned at the time.)

It was only a few years later, after the Iraq debacle had begun to unfold, that my young friend began to see that Bush wasn’t exactly Mr. Competent.  Discussing that war, I found my friend more receptive to the argument that Bush’s entire 9/11 response had, in fact, made America considerably less secure (and on virtually every front).  I was able to give him some fairly cogent examples: our allies in Madrid and London having been attacked by al Qaeda; the number of global terrorist incidents — especially those targeting Americans — having skyrocketed; the huge hits America’s treasury and international credibility had already taken…

Only during that second visit (the one that took place a few years after 9/11, rather than mere weeks) my young Iowan friend was not alone.  This time he had brought along a buddy, freshly enlisted in the U.S. Marines.  His friend was mostly quiet, letting us engage and discuss as we had once done on a regular basis (clashing in good-natured fashion over morality, ethics, and basic good sense — before the nation’s troubles had come to the fore).  Yet his taciturn friend did volunteer one thing: “I enlisted in the Marines because I want to know what it’s like to kill someone,” he admitted, “and not be in trouble for it, not go to jail or anything” (no exaggeration, that’s what he told me).

I was flabbergasted.  “But what about the justice of your actions?” I wanted to know.  I informed him that Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks.  The Bush folks had fabricated the WMD and “al Qaeda-Iraq connection” claims, the majority of which had been debunked in real time, before the war was even launched (only that wasn’t the story the media was interested in covering; they had a bogus case for war to sell).

This fresh Marine recruit was also curious about my morality.  “But what about once you’re in a war?  Then whose side are you on?  If you’re right there, and it’s us versus them?”  That gave me pause, picturing myself in some kind of trench, I suppose, with a bunch of good ole’ American faces all around me and the bullets flying… I conceded that if I ever found myself in such a situation, I supposed I would be on the side of my countrymen — but that there was no reason it should have come to that, least of all in this particular case!

Conclusion: Without empathy, we simply fight in packs, lacking any principles or worthy cause.

And that’s where real moral of the story crystallizes for me.  My friend’s Marine buddy — like my friend himself, a few years earlier, discussing Afghanistan — could not trouble himself with questions of justice.  Ready to kill, he could not be bothered to worry about how millions of innocent Iraqis would be affected by our war (just as my Iowan friend couldn’t really work up any sympathy for the Afghan people, during that other discussion, a few years previous).

And that’s precisely where America has gone wrong.  We’ve forgotten that wars don’t mean anything — or accomplish any positive result — when they’re fought in an unprincipled fashion, without any true concern for the justice of one’s cause.  We’ve forgotten that “winning” means nothing when the victor has forsaken his most cherished values and, ultimately, degraded his humanity (by rejecting the natural human impulse to EMPATHIZE with one’s fellow living beings, especially other human beings). 

“We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” — General Barry McCaffrey (from Glenn Greenwald’s 2009 article, “The Suppressed Fact: Deaths by U.S. Torture”)

Per even the U.S. military’s own reports, America (DoD-CIA) tortured dozens of detainees to death in the years following 9/11.  Most cases have not resulted in any charges and several were not even investigated (no autopsy, even).  I was personally present at a congressional hearing in 2008 when retired Marine Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, testified that he had seen documents indicating that America had tortured to death over a hundred detainees in our custody. He later revised that number upward, indicating that the figure is probably closer to 200 individuals — that’s some 200 human beings that America tortured to death under George W. Bush (the vast majority likely innocent, a la Dilawar the taxi driver, one of the first people America detained and subsequently murdered after 9/11, casually and sadistically, for no good reason).

And now we know that no one will be held responsible for these crimes.  The New York Times recently reported that — despite documentation that the United States under George W. Bush repeatedly tortured detainees to death — there will be ZERO legal consequences for the perpetrators or the policymakers responsible.  Worse yet, although most Americans have apparently gone to sleep on the subject, rendition and torture continue under the present administration (only following a slightly different protocol, generally, involving proxy torturers carrying out U.S. orders, with the Americans often, simply, standing just outside of the door, directing).

*          *          *

This series began with a conversation about some of the individuals and institutions that have systematically shielded serial child rapists over the years, simply to save themselves from bad publicity.  I offered two recent, notorious examples of such conduct, Penn State and the Vatican, observing that, like many a pedophiliac priest, Penn State’s chronic child molester, Jerry Sandusky, was allowed to continue raping and sexually assaulting children for well over a decade — while others in his circle covered up his crimes.

I then turned the conversation to Libor manipulation and America’s essentially genocidal foreign policy in the Middle East, observing how Wall Street and the neocons — with their endless, boundless criminal predations and sociopathic behavior — are essentially like Sandusky and the pedophile priests: they relentlessly commit egregious criminal offenses while the powers that be shield them.

As I type these words, the neocons’ Syria policy has sparked a bloody civil war that — in August alone — forced more than 100,000 refugees out of the country.  America (make no mistake: AMERICA) is doing to Syrians today what we did to Iraqis yesterday and Afghanistan the day before that.  The children and innocents are suffering in the millions, and Americans continue to sit on their hands… when they’re not actually applauding the slaughter, that is (or at least applauding the policy, cheering for empire’s “rebels”).

[To be clear: It would be a mistake to construe my opposition to America’s recent wars as support for Assad or Qaddafi or the Taliban — any more than opposition to the Iraq War meant that one “supported” Saddam Hussein.  This is about principle… and it’s about pragmatism.  Beyond their illegality, the neocons’ policies are immoral and highly impractical, generally achieving the opposite of their stated aims — because their only true aims are to feed the MIC and spread/perpetuate the totalitarian, global surveillance state.  Those are their only values, and as long as we make them our values, we can not be expected to endure as a great nation (as indeed we’re failing right now, by ignoring our laws, our crumbling infrastructure, and proven threats to our security, like exploding healthcare costs and the climate catastrophe that’s upon us).]

So, the world and its institutions are complicit — just as Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are complicit when it comes to the crimes of the neoconservatives (which they’ve mostly continued).  Our political parties and leading institutions do precisely as Archbishop/Cardinal/Pope Ratzinger and Coach Paterno did: they actively cover up monstrous crimes, shield the criminals, and facilitate future horrors.  Millions of innocents suffer and die while our leaders continue to pontificate about America’s “values” to an increasingly skeptical world.

Our true credo: WE DO NOT CHARGE ELITE CRIMINALS, NOR SHALL WE — EVER.  SO DON’T ROCK THE BOAT AND DON’T YOU DARE BLOW THE WHISTLE ON THEIR CRIMES (for that’s the one official act we still prosecute!).

But this series was never intended to be an empty exercise in moralizing and high dudgeon; IT WAS INTENDED TO BE A WARNING:  All that we have visited on the world — demonstrating a considerable dearth of human compassion and empathy — will surely be revisited upon us in the years ahead.  Even if you don’t know or care about the many millions of victims of American policy in recent decades, you should care about that little law of human physics: What goes around comes around.

And that, my friends, is why evolution/God equipped us with EMPATHY in the first place: it’s not just morally satisfying; it’s what we need to survive.